Pioneering medical social worker
Daisy Vaithilingam was one of the first people to graduate from the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore, or NUS) with the new Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950. From that day on, she dedicated her life to improving the lives of others.
The youngest of four children, Daisy was inspired into social work by her late parents. Her stepfather had been a doctor, and her mother was a nurse. Like them, Daisy also worked in hospitals for most of her working life, except when she was in the social work department in the university.
Her career began in the 1950s, when hospitals were desperate places, plagued with problems left by the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation. Poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and disease were rife. Daisy set to work helping patients find food and money, and gradually their lives improved.
Throughout her career as a social worker, Daisy pioneered many new initiatives. Of particular significance was the role she played in establishing Singapore’s first fostering scheme for children. This began by assigning hospital attendants and amahs to care for children who had been abandoned in hospital. In time, the arrangement was formalised as a Social Welfare programme.
Daisy also worked hard to secure financial aid for the parents of mentally disabled children. She helped set up the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW), and she chaired the first Committee of the Care of the Aged.
Among Daisy’s guiding principles was her strong belief in linking patients with the hospital, and with the community. She was the vision behind equipping hospitals with a resource information service, allowing patients to discover details of treatment costs and community resources.
Alongside her team of social workers, Daisy also founded a community project which housed women without resources in a communal residence. Those unable to look after themselves were cared for by a Matron.
In the 1980s she helped to set up the MSW (medical social work) Department at the National University Hospital. Daisy was also a passionate teacher and lectured in social work at NUS for 15 years.
Always compassionate, Daisy has an enduring sense of right and wrong. She once identified children who had been labelled retarded and wrongly placed in Woodbridge Hospital (current Institute of Mental Health), and campaigned to get each one of them discharged and to either go into foster care or to be adopted.
Daisy Vaithilingam passed away on 6th August 2014 in Singapore following her strong battle against cancer.
"Even today, if I can, I will."